By Rich Dana and Deborah Reade
This article originally appeared in OBSOLETE! #2
Recently, I found myself perusing the book tables at a sustainable living fair and came across a copy of The Septic System Owners Manual. Granted, it's not a title that would attract most readers, but if you live on a farm with an aging septic system as we do, it might. There was something about the cover of this book, with it's playful turn-of-the-century fonts and the tightly drawn pen and ink cartoon that made me pick it up and start leafing through the amazing illustrations.
I remembered immediately where I had seen this drawing style before. In the early 80's, I was living above George Herget's bookshop on Magazine Street in New Orleans. One of my roommates, George Morrissey, had undertaken a complete rebuild of his VW Rabbit (to the dismay of the neighbors and landlord) on the sidewalk outside, as well as on the living room floor and kitchen table. Ever-present was a copy of How toKeep Your Volkswagen Rabbit Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for theCompleat Idiot. The illustrations in the Septic System book were in the same meticulous yet quirky, humorous style.
PeterAschwanden’s work was ingrained in my memory - the "compleat idiot" series of VW repair books were omnipresent among DIY'ers of the 70's and 80's, and were the predecessors to an entire genre of informal "how-to" books. His illustrations adorned t-shirts and posters of VW nuts across the world.
With the launch of OBSOLETE! Magazine earlier this year, I decided to look into the work of this guy whose skill with a pen rivaled that of other better-known 60's illustrators like R. Crumb and Spain Rodriguez. I wanted to meet this guy. Unfortunately, Peter had passed away in 2005. I’m indebted to Deborah Reade and Francisco Aschwanden, who very generously helped me put together this profile of Peter, his life, and his work.
Read the entire article at our sister publication, OBSOLETE!